If you like listening to podcasts or music on your run then there are several options available to you: over-ear headphones, earbuds, or bone conduction headphones. In this post we’ll explain why bone conducting headphones are the best for runners.
What are bone conducting headphones and how do they work?
Conduction is the process by which sound waves travel and the diagram below shows the difference between bone conduction and air conduction.
Bone conducting headphones allow you to listen to audio without putting anything in or over your ears and instead of using speakers to generate sound waves, they create vibrations that bypass your eardrums entirely.
Your normal, traditional, headphones create sounds that travels through air, enters your ears, vibrates your eardrums, and travel to the inner ear, but bone conduction headphones sit in front of your ears and send vibrations through your cheekbones directly to the temporal bone, which is the bone surrounding the cochlea in the inner ear.
These headphones will connect with your audio device, such as your smartphone, via bluetooth so there are no cables etc. Some will also offer in-device storage so you can transfer and store files on the actual headphones.
How does it feel to run with bone conduction headphones
We asked regular contributor Adem to give us a firsthand account of how it feels to run with bone conduction headphone as opposed to regular headphones.
“I don’t always run with headphones but if I’m on a longer run then I’ll usually listen to a podcast rather than music, although music definitely has a place on a tough run when I need a distraction.
After trying a variety of headphones I initially settled on some in-ear sports headphones which had hooks to go over my ears. They ticked a lot of the boxes but there were a couple of flaws that made me switch over to a pair of Shokz bone conduction headphones.
- The wires kept getting caught up and delayed me getting out of the door.
- They were cheap so had poor sound quality and eventually the battery died after a year.
- I couldn’t hear anything else around me when I had them in.
The last point was the most frustrating as in order to hear anything I would generally have to take them off as the controls were too fiddly. When you have to do this several times during a run it can be very annoying, and quite a lot of the time I would end up not taking them with me to make sure I would be able to hear cars passing me.
I finally bit the bullet and bought some Shokz Titanium headphones and they were great. I run a lot of country roads and with these headphones I’m able to hear cars or cyclists coming up behind me and it’s so much nicer knowing what’s around me. Yes, I can still hear my podcast, but I can also be aware of my environment too.
On a side note, a button on my Shokz Titanium stopped working after 18 months, but this wasn’t a big issue as all their products come with a 2 year warranty. I got in touch with them, put a claim in, and as the Titanium model was no longer in production they sent me a new pair of Shokz OpenMove as a replacement.”
Why are they better than other headphones?
Here are the main factors as to why we believe bone conducting headphones are better than the traditional alternatives.
This is the number one reason for using bone conduction headphones. Because they don’t sit in your ear and bypass your eardrums you should still be able to hear the outside world. This could be traffic, emergency vehicles, someone approaching you, an alarm, or someone shouting a warning.
It’s so important to be aware of your surroundings, and in many instances we would argue against having any type of headphones and distractions as you should be using all your senses to assess your environment.
With all the controls actually at the side of your head it’s easy to pause your music or adjust the volume depending on your needs e.g. stop the music when crossing a road.
Comfort and fit
Over-ear headphones are large and can make your ears sweat. Airpods or earbuds can fall-out when running. Most bone conduction headphones hook over your ears with a one-size fits all design so you have none of the issues listed above.
The headphones don’t fall off, in fact it’s sometimes easy to forget you’re wearing them.
You’re not putting things in your ear so can keep your ear canal dry and clean.
bone conduction headphones are powered by an internal, rechargeable battery, and any decent pair will hold a charge for at least around 7 hours, so more than enough to cover most people’ weekly runs without having to worry about them running out of charge.
They are charged via a USB cable, so no need to worry about changing batteries etc.
You can use them in races
Bone conduction headphones are the only headphones approved for use in road races under the UK Athletics Rules of Competition. Please note that there are some races that ban any headphones, so it’s always important to read specific race rules, but if they are going to allows any headphones then they will be of the bone conduction type.
Because bone conduction headphones are generally marketed for sporting activities, most will come with a decent IP rating for water resistance. Some will be sweatproof and fine for when it rains, whilst others will even be fine for swimming with!
A few negatives
It’s only right that we mention the negatives too, and for these there are very few.
There are limits on the volume and bass that these provide, but that is in part due to the fact that you’re still meant to be able to hear the outside world. So this is probably more of a results of the design and technology.
It may take a little while getting used to that, and if external noises are too loud, then you can sometimes struggle to hear specific audio. Again, we go back to the safety aspect and the rationale that whilst running it’s more important to be aware of your surrounding than drowning them out with music.
Decent branded bone conduction headphones will set you back around £70/$80 so they’re not cheap, but you will get quality headphones that will last and and are made specifically for your running.
There are cheaper models out there, but we’ve found that the batteries don’t last as long, and there is a drop in build quality.
Recommended Bone Conduction Headphones
When buying bone conduction headphones we always go for Shokz. Shokz are the world’s leading bone conduction technology manufacturer and innovator, and prior to December 2021 were called AfterShokz. They boast over 7 million customers so you know that you’re getting a quality product with the customer service to back it up.
They have a wide range available from the entry level OpenMove to the premium OpenRun Pro which boasts enhanced bass, a 10-hour battery life, and quick-charge feature.